This little book of proverbs was written by the Reverend J Trusler, who asked William Blake to make some engravings in 1799. Trusler’s book takes well-known proverbs and explains them, following the style of an earlier work in which he had explained and provided moral commentaries on the prints of Hogarth.
The proverb shown here – 'Experience is the Mistress of Fools' – tells the reader that we learn better by experience than by warnings, but that experience can do us harm: we ‘buy this experience at a dear rate’.
What is the tone of the text?
This type of moralising text was a popular kind of literature particularly directed at children throughout the 18th century. However, it was at this time that children were beginning to be treated as not just vessels to be filled with useful knowledge and good morals, or to be worked to death or infirmity, but as people with attitudes and resistances – with a will of their own. The text shows a recognition that something more than fear and tyranny were needed to bring the Christian moral code into the children’s world. The preface to the book begins: ‘Principles of religion and lessons of morality are the first maxims that should be instilled into the minds of youth; but these truths being naturally dry and unentertaining to playful minds, very much indispose them for their reception’.
More about the book
The book is illustrated with woodcut prints made by John Bewick, brother of Thomas Bewick. Trusler was by this stage a well-known figure, who grew wealthy publishing books on medicine, farming, history, politeness, law, theology, travel, gardening, collections of sermons, and the very popular The Way to be Rich and Respectable, Addressed to Men of Small Fortune (1775).